Can Trauma Be Inherited?

Can Trauma Be Inherited?

by Juliet Davey

Over the years, my friend and I have discussed our highs and lows, our expectations, our disappointments.  During one such conversation, not so long ago, my friend described to me her feeling of inexplicable grief.  This wasn’t a passing state but something that she experienced regularly.  Mindful, analytical and intelligent, this woman has never been able to put her finger on the source of her grief, nor has she been able to shift it.

And then two days ago, she posted the following:

“Been doing some family research turns out my maternal great great grandfather shot his wife in the head and then killed himself in the jewish ghetto of mile end… leaving my great grandmother aged 5 and her 3 elder siblings – was hoping to find out I was related to Einstein but there you go…”

Something other than the sheer tragedy of that story hit me.  Something resonated and it got me thinking:  Can we inherit trauma from past generations? Do we somehow genetically remember the pain of our ancestors? Whilst addictions, phobias, anxiety, fear and stress can develop through our experiences, perhaps they can also be inherited through DNA.  There is a mounting body of recent research suggesting that genetic changes, caused by trauma, can be passed down to subsequent generations. However these studies have received a mixed reception as the biological mechanisms for this genetic encoding are yet to be fully understood.

In an interview with Psychology today, Mark Wolynn, author of It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle recently said:

“Many of us walk around with trauma symptoms we can’t explain. Whether sudden onset or chronic, we have anxieties, depressions or obsessive thoughts we’ve never gotten to the bottom of. We never think to connect our personal issue to what’s happened to our parents or grandparents. We’re now learning that traumas experienced by previous generations can be biologically inherited and I think that’s surprising for many people.”

So if we are carrying around this ancestral trauma, how can we deal with it? Mindfulness might not initially be the answer. An awareness of an emotional state without being able to identify the source or trigger could lead to further frustration. How are we to ever integrate emotions related to a trauma we do not understand?

A study at The Upledger Institute showed that CranioSacral therapy significantly improved symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam Veterans. Therefore it seems like this gentle-touch, non-invasive therapy which works on the central nervous system would also be effective in treating other traumas.

Clinical psychiatrist – Bessel Van der Kolk suggests psychomotor therapies such as yoga and dance. The idea is to engage in physical activities that can impact the primitive brain whilst sidestepping the part of our brain responsible for logic. By creating new memories we can work towards healing trauma.

A different approach altogether is Family Constellations – a therapy that aims to reveal and heal family attachments and dynamics that have been unconsciously carried over several generations.

For more information on Holis Wellness Center’s CranioSacral therapy or to request an appointment, click here:

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